Saturday, January 7, 2023

Şaban Oğlu Şaban (1977)

Şaban and Ramazan are two clumsy soldiers, who somehow manage to survive World War I intact, as does their long-suffering CO. Now in civilian life, a visit backstage to a nightclub singer sees them accidentally toss a gangster out a window, causing their immediate arrest and promotion by a slightly deaf old commander. Now in a special position, they must solve a mystery in a daffy household, finding a missing diamond known as the Apple...

Şaban Oğlu Şaban is one of Turkish legend Kemal Sunal's most well-remembered comedies. It's a mish-mash of styles, with wartime comedy, followed by peacetime detective work. This is handled pretty effectively, even if it would've been nice to have more military stuff.

The film's portrayal of the Turkish side of the First World War is interesting, seeing the other half of the divide. Particularly for me as an Australian. It's also cool seeing them in modern army uniforms instead of old-fashioned Ottoman uniforms and battlefield Fezs.

The movie amusingly glosses over the fact the Turks lost in WWI. Although I guess that can be seen as just life going on in spite of defeat. We return to the battlefield for the the ending, going full circle with the revolutionary war.

Partway through, Şaban Oğlu Şaban takes a turn into becoming a light Pink Panther knockoff! Clumsy detective, stolen diamond, even some familiar setpieces. To its credit though, it's really only the superficial gags that are used, with the characters and setting being very different.

The comedy here is good! The double act between Şaban and Ramazan carries much of the humour well. The film is heavy on recurring jokes, such as the commander's perpetual bad luck around firearms (his own or Şaban's). While it may repeat the gags a little too much, it's always funny, and does things differently enough each time.

There's plenty of wordplay too. Your mileage on how much you understand depends on either your knowledge of the Turkish language, or the quality of any subtitles you find. There's also the just plain weird sailor talking scene!

The film has a high body count, but it's all in such a comedic sense you can't believe anyone's seriously been hurt

As with many Turkish comedies, we have an opening montage. Some scenes from later, as well as a few gags shot specifically for this intro. Including, colourful joke, involving shoe polish! But the thing to remember is this is from a completely different country. They lack any history with American blackface, so for them this wouldn't have had any negative connotations.

After a while the plot does get a bit thin. The search for the diamond becomes an excuse to have comedic gag after gag, and story takes a backseat. After a while I began to get a little annoyed. The scenes we get aren't bad, but I was wanting to see more clumsy police work, but instead we get scenes of mistaken betrothal and fake circumcision that could be from any other movie.

I was a little confused by the logic at times, like why the heroes try acting blind and other guises to re-infiltrate the house they're already in. And the confined location did harm the movie a bit for me. Pink Panther movies were sometimes fairly thin plots, mostly made up of Peter Sellers goofing off. But those at least had a bit more variety in location, whereas here we're in a more confined space.

The ending is a bit of a free-for-all, with lots of yelling and grabbing, until suddenly war is declared and grinds everything to a halt. There's not really any resolution to anything. Since this was never a heavily story based affair, this isn't a huge deal, but I did wish some threads got a bit of closure. The ending itself is great though. I like how everything comes full circle, and the last gag and line end things on a high.

The characters are a kooky bunch. Şaban is a clumsy but lovable lead, who also gets moments of being an asshole. But never in a genuinely unlikeable way. The same is true for his buddy Ramazan. When they're not searching for clues together or interrogating suspects, they are trying to kill each-other to win the heart of a girl.

More than just the grumpy CO, Husamettin is also having a fling with a desirable nightclub singer, and may have even stolen the diamond for her. The solution to the mystery does seem obvious, but the film throws in a last minute curveball.

Şaban Oğlu Şaban is a neat looking film! I liked the visuals of the camo military section. It's probably shot in a backyard somewhere, but it looks authentic, as do the night-lit trenches. Likewise, the streets of post-war Istanbul look nice with its cobblestoned roads and antique manor houses. Lastly, the film has very colourful fashion! I dug the snazzy suit/fez combo the men sport, while the women wear some garish outfits.

The acting here is a high point, but could depend on the viewer. Kemal Sunal may be annoying to some, and Halit Akçatepe's high-pitched voice here could definitely drive less patient viewers to murder. My opinion falls somewhere in the middle. Sunal is great as usual, while Halit is mostly fun, but his voice can grate at times. Şener Şen is a perfect grouchy authority figure, yelling with perfection. Sıtkı Akçatepe amuses as the deaf and near-sighted commander, Adile Naşit is her usual clucky and cackling self, Ayşen Gruda is funny and cute, and Sevda Aktolga is a beauty.

Şaban Oğlu Şaban is a fun romp, and deservedly ranks as one of Turkey's classics. I didn't love it 100%, but it's definitely worthwhile...

Friday, January 6, 2023

Süt Kardeşler (1976)

Clumsy sailor Şaban is getting shore leave to visit his old 'milk mother', but is convinced by wily shipmate Ramadan to swap places. This house turns out to be a real hive of activity. Irate naval commander Husamettin is visiting his sister, young lovers are in trouble, and a ghost is haunting the night. Can things be sorted out before everyone flees in terror?...

Süt Kardeşler (Milk Siblings) is a fondly remembered Turkish classic, starring many of the famous comics of the day. The humour can be simple, but effective. We've got slapstick, wordplay, and the personalities of these distinct performers shining through.

The plot is simple in content, but a bit complex in little details and characters. The action takes place predominately in the one house. It's an effective way of familiarising the viewer, keeping things simple in one way, so you can focus on who's who, and who's doing what. The story builds in a satisfying way, with a nice mix between comedy setpieces and story.

Things get more convoluted with the various misunderstandings and deceptions, but is all eventually wrapped up, and in a funny way, with Husamettin becoming so confused he can't even see straight anymore. He's too focused on remembering who's really who to think too hard about much else. The climax is plenty of fun, though the film never bothers giving us a final look-in at the house, and all the characters there. We at least get a good final scene on the boat to close us out, so it doesn't feel abrupt.

The film is based on an old Turkish novel, Gulyabani (also this film's occasional subtitle). I can't speak to how good of an adaption this is, but I'm sure it does a fairly reasonable job. Although it would have to retro-fit in these comedians and their mannerisms. In a way it might be like the Turkish equivalent of a PG Wodehouse book. A country estate, hapless romantics, constant misunderstandings, etc.

Süt Kardeşler has nice visuals, with its dockside boats and 'country' estate. The fashion is neat too! The film has a turn of the century setting, with old style naval outfits, complete with fez (of course!), and the women of the household have some neat fashion, particularly the maid! There's a really nice colour to their outfits.

The almost titular Gulyabani looks great too! It's fake, obviously, but it's meant to be. It is only a costume. It's tall, well-crafted, and has a neat spooky visage. It's the kind of thing you could easily imagine traumatising Turkish youngsters.

The characters make Süt Kardeşler more of an ensemble piece. Saban is a dim but likeable hero. No idea why he agrees to a swap that doesn't really benefit him, but I guess that's just down to his overly trusting nature. He disappears for a long stretch, but everyone's screentime soon evens out. Ramadan is a shifty guy, but innocent enough that he never stops being a friend. Them having the same names as their characters in Şaban Oğlu Şaban is a little confusing, but you get used to it. Bayram doesn't quite manage to be much more than a third party, but has his moments, and the fact that he landed a girl like Afife is impressive! Long-suffering CO Husamettin has more to him than only yelling at or trying to shoot the leads as in other movies, but gets enough grumpy moments to entertain. And the villains are decent enough, though don't appear as much as I'd like.

The women of the film are just as numerous. There's the eccentric lady of the house Melek, her long-suffering housemaid Yasemin, who shifts from 'There's no ghoul, you old bat' to 'Ahh, run away, ghoul!' in equal measure. Bride-to-be Afife is nice enough, though not much is made of the milk sibling connection. Blonde girl Bihter meanwhile is far too pretty to be sincere, especially considering her uncle is the scheming villain of the piece! We never really see much bad from her though, nor any kind of wrap-up. 

The cast assembled here is a great one. Keman Sunal is a fun and distinct lead, but doesn't hog all the screentime from the others. One could argue the opposite almost happens! Halit Akçatepe does well [(his voice not as overbearing as it could sometimes be)], and the same goes for Ergin Orbey, forming a loose trio. Despite being a contemporary of the other two, Şener Şen excelled in playing older authority roles, and here is no exception. He's great as the blustering commander, and plays off well with the others, even getting some amusingly homoerotic moments. Adile Naşit is a funny older dame, and Ayşen Gruda is adorable and snazzy!

The film is directed by Turkish comedy stalwart Ertem Eğilmez, also responsible for the Hababam Sınıfı classics. He does a good job behind the camera, with nice imagery, and funny zoom-ins. I'd definitely be interested in seeing him tackle an actual horror film! Certainly this is never anything spine-chilling, but with the ooky music, midnight park alleys, and giant 'monster', I'd be curious to see!

Süt Kardeşler is another classic of Turkish comedy, thanks to both its cast, and writing/scenario. It's plenty of fun, and well worth a watch!...

Sunday, January 1, 2023

The Phantom (1996)

Lee Falk's seminal comic The Phantom has been around for a long time, since the dawn of comics themselves, yet has had surprisingly few film adaptions! Besides a lone movie serial back in the 40s, it took another 5 decades before we finally got a proper film.

Hundreds of years ago, the only survivor of a pirate attack swore on the skull of his father['s killer] that he would devote his life and those of all his descendants to fighting evil. As The Phantom they are known as The Ghost Who Walks, a seemingly immortal crimefighter from deep within the jungle. The modern day Phantom is Kit Walker, who takes a trip to the city to meet old flame Diana Palmer, and becomes embroiled in a plot by an evil businessmen to find three mystical skulls, which grant the wielder terrible powers...

The Phantom came during a time when Hollywood was producing a surprising amount of pulp hero films, from The Shadow, to The Rocketeer, etc. The 30s was a golden age for superheroes, so it's not a surprise some of these characters would eventually get their time in the sun!

This is an entertaining film, with a basic enough story, plenty of action, and a brisk pace. We have a good story that's simple enough, with enough fun elements, like evil businessmen, vampy sky pirates, magical skulls, exotic jungle settings, etc. It's all pretty cliched I guess, and nothing you haven't seen before, but it's all done right

It's also a really good adaption! It tells a traditional Phantom story (albeit with some added supernatural flair), it embraces the goofy purple costume with no shame. It even keeps the classic 1930s setting, even though the comic has always had a floating timeline, and at this point stories were actually set in the 90s.

The film received a fairly lukewarm reception, but has a modest following now. What I find most astounding is that Lee Falk actually lived to see this! It may be a surprise to know the author of a 1930s comic strip was even still alive in the late 90s, but he was surprisingly young when he created The Phantom.

1930s New York is a good setting, but I kinda wish it had've been Bengali's urban centre instead. That way we see more of the country, and get a full picture of it from the jungle to the city. Instead, half the movie is set in America. It's also a lot more seamless for the phantom to pop in and out of city streets when the jungle is only a stone's throw away.

The Phantom is a good leading man. Badass, noble, and the possessor of improbable aiming skills. There's lots of fun little touches to his character too, from giving 'little people' ludicrous amounts of goodwill and gaining loyal buddies as a result, to how no-one ever realises Kit Walker is the Phantom despite one disappearing every time the other shows up. We don't see him with any milk though (but there was an ad campaign). And he also gains his pet Devil entry everywhere he goes by assuring that he's not a dog, he's a wolf (which I imagine is accepted mostly because of his = tone!).

One difference to the comics is that we see the Phantom's unmasked face all the time here. This does bug me a little, but you get why it was done. Shows the box office draw...I mean actor off, and is more accessible to a studio. It could've been fun if he remained masked the whole film, but I guess The Phantom isn't as serious as something like Judge Dredd, so it's not that big of a deal. And Diana's still the only character who really sees.

One touch to the film I really didn't like was the inclusion of a ghost dad. Nevermind that it makes the Phantom look like a schizo to everyone around him, but he acts too meek and subservient. By the time a Phantom takes the mantle, he's already at peak experience, so it's no fun seeing him basically be browbeaten by a ghost dad. He only has two scenes, an hour apart, making his whole inclusion all the more pointless. And the unnecessary narration spoils the end a bit with a kinda mean comment.

Diana is a pretty fun love interest, and has plenty of spunk to her. She's also not too useless of a damsel, which is appreciated.

The villains are a pretty fun bunch. Xander Drax, who was just born to be evil with a name like that! He's a 'charming' guy with creative and silly ways of dispatching enemies. His partner is criminal Quill, who has a history with the Phantom, having killed the previous one. Then there's Sala, head of an all-female band of sky pirates. She's deliciously bad, but has a surprising change of heart, which works pretty well, and feels right out of a classic Phantom comic.

The Singh Brotherhood are an afterthought, and as fun as having pirates here is, they could be easily cut. Their leader exudes smoother villainy than anyone else though! One amusing scene is when he proclaims he knows the Phantom's secret, that he's not immortal...then immediately dies a horrible death! It is kind of a shame he doesn't escape for future movies, but actually kinda fitting. Since we never got a sequel (or another phantom film ever), tying up all the loose ends is a nice touch.

The action is pretty fun all-round, with setpieces in the jungle, the city, a chase, and a volcanic lair. Apparently some shots are reminiscent of Indiana Jones (the same action choreographer doing this as well), but that's not really noticeable for casual viewers. I mean, I've seen Raiders of the Lost Ark at least 5 times in my life, and nothing really leapt out to me in any negative way. And besides, action's action. It's bound to look similar at a point. One punch is much the same as another, it's how entertaining you make it that counts!

The direction here is good, mixing with good location work, and some alright computer effects, to make good imagery. There's a lot of good practical effects here, and some pretty dodgy CGI! And the score is pretty traditional adventure stuff, getting the job done. I also dug the imagery of the end credits, rather than just scrolling over a blank black screen.

The cast here does well. Billy Zane is a charismatic and dashing hero, while Kristy Swanson is a fun partner and love interest. Treat Williams performance is suitably evil, and hammy, though he goes a bit far with some deliveries. James Remar is pretty good, while Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa is perfectly cast, and it would've been nice to see him as the main antagonist in another Phantom film. Catherine Zeta Jones is fun deliciously vampy role. Patrick McGoohan is ok as the narrator and ghost dad. And lastly, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the cute wolf and horse playing Devil and Hero!

The Phantom is a more than enjoyable pulp superhero flick, and as good as an adaption as any Phantom fan could hope for. We're not exactly spoiled for choice, are we! It's sad this never turned into its own little franchise, but as long as we got one complete package, that's good enough...